5. Work site safety

It is worth repeating the safety guidelines mentioned earlier in the book under legal issues.

Use common sense. Some safeguards:

Do not let children operate power tools particularly circular saws, chop saws, etc. Screw guns are usually fine when the children are supervised.

Whenever allowing adults to use a power tool, ask them if they have used it before and understand how it could hurt them. If the tool is new, ensure that you show them how to use it safely.

When building or demolishing parts of the home, do prudent things to minimize dangers. Put up rails or boards to protect people from falling.

Strongly encourage the use of all safety equipment including safety boots and glasses.

By reducing risks and ensuring that people know how to use a tool, you are sharing the liability.

Have a first aid kit handy and the location and telephone number of a drop-in clinic by the telephone.

Electrical work, particularly involving the main circuit panel, must only be done by a qualified, licensed and insured electrical contractor.

Plumbing work should be done by qualified people but it does not have to be someone who is necessarily licensed. If there is a mistake there may be some damage but not deadly results like main electrical panel work.

Volunteers should be used at the level of skills they possess or are willing to learn. Framing, drywall, demolition, painting, flooring, doors and trim, moving materials (sand, gravel, drywall, etc.) all based on their skill or comfort level. Even people with minimal skills can work along side someone with experience. Minor electrical and plumbing work can also be done this way.

If you are digging outside your home, get your local cable companies to come out (usually a free service) to tell you where their cables are buried. Do this several weeks before the digging is to start. Notify the following companies: hydro, gas, telephone, television-computer cable company, water department and other underground cable companies.

If someone get hurts, get them whatever medical care they need as you would with any guest. Never attempt to hide a serious injury for fear of legal repercussions. Treat the person as you would a family member. Get them all the care they need, even if they do not want it. This is not only prudent but it is also your moral responsibility and the very least expected by the courts in cases of possible negligence, thereby reducing your liability. Write down what happened, who saw what happened and what you did to help the person.

Operations: tools, equipment, safety

A construction site is an accident waiting to happen:

  1. Wood with nails sticking out.

  2. Hanging wires.

  3. Power tools left plugged in and unattended.

  4. Sharp metal edges from metal studs and duct work.

  5. Uneven flooring.

  6. Loose materials left on the floor where you might trip.

  7. Airborne dust and insulation fibers which can cause respiratory problems if not cleaned up. Sawdust left on the floor for days where people can slip on it.

Experienced contractors work in these areas with proper equipment, training and expertise including safety boots, hard hats, gloves, dust masks, etc. You, your family and volunteers must take extra precaution because of your lack of equipment, training and expertise. Children must not be left unattended or unsupervised on the construction site!


Many contractors will leave large tools overnight on site during the project. If they have children of their own, they are likely to unplug them before they leave. However, you must make sure that all tools, such as circular saws, drills, chop saw are unplugged. All of these can do serious injury to a child or inexperienced adult very quickly.

Most home owners own sufficient tools to complete minor repairs in the home. These same tools can be used to assist in the renovation project. For example, a tool, such as an electric drill, can be used to put up dry wall by purchasing a $2 Philips bit from your local hardware store.

All of the tools that an experienced contractor would bring to the project are available on a rental basis through many local building suppliers or tool rental companies. The suppliers of these tools are happy to provide basic instruction on their operation and safety tips.

Other tools can be bought inexpensively to assist on the project include those used for applying drywall compound (fills in the cracks between drywall).

If you are doing much of the renovations yourself, the following tools may be very helpful to buy:

1.a cordless drill (or screw gun) – 12 volts or higher (18 volts preferable)

2.a circular saw (also called skill saw)

3.a level, two feet or longer, is essential when hanging doors and should be used when framing, installing cabinetry, etc. to ensure that these items are plumb and level

4.the basic drywall tools including a hock (tool for holding drywall compound “mud”), a narrow drywall knife for filling small holes, a wide drywall knife for tapering seams, and an inside corner tool for smoothing drywall compound in inside corners.

If these are being rented or borrowed, ensure that you have the correct:

1.driver bits for the drill (Philips and Robertson)

2.blades for the power saw based on the materials to be cut (i.e., there are specific blades for cutting framing material, for trim material, for floor laminates, and for metal)

If you have volunteers helping on the project, ask them if they can bring along any tools so that you do not have to buy, rent or borrow tools unnecessarily. No one under the age of 18 should be allowed to use any electric saw or power nailer. Only those adults with experience or with proper operational and safety instruction should be allowed to use these power tools.

Safety Equipment

Basic common sense must be used on a construction site.

1.safety boots (with steel toes and steel shanks in the soles to prevent nails from coming through the sole) should be worn at all times

2.safety glasses should be worn at all times when cutting materials, chiseling, during demolition, and at all other times when there is a risk of flying debris.

3.dust masks that are absolutely essential when cutting concrete, sanding drywall, floors, etc., working with insulation, or working in a confined place without ventilation where there are airborne particles present.

4.safety belts and tie offs should be worn and properly secured when working on scaffolding, on the roof or working more than six feet off the ground where it is possible for you to fall

5.gloves are helpful during demolition, digging, grading the ground, hammering, carrying lumber or other heavy equipment or material to reduce the risk of injury and getting blisters

6.hard hats should be worn when doing any demolition work or when working under unfinished ceilings where objects are likely to fall down on you.

Most accidents happen when people trip over a loose cord or slip on a wet or dirty floor.

It is very important to keep the work area clean and dry especially when working with power tools. Ensure that power cords are never allowed to sit in water if working in a damp environment.

If there is high traffic around a cord, use some duct tape to secure the cord to the floor or ground.

Move brooms, shovels or similar equipment to a corner or out of the way as the handle can easily come up and hit someone if they step on its end.

Be cautious when lifting heavy materials. Have someone to help you rather than doing it by yourself.

Never lean over on a ladder to reach an out-of-the way spot. Move the ladder. It is time consuming but safer.

Never work on dangerous parts of the construction project by yourself. Whether it is roofing, framing or working on the plumbing or electrical system, make sure that someone is around who will know if you get hurt.

Other Clothing Tips

Wear clothes that fit the weather conditions and are appropriate for the work. Some tips:

Pants or overalls should have legs without cuffs and fit properly.

Shirtsleeves should be rolled up or buttoned up so they are not loose, especially around machinery where they can get caught. This is true of all clothing – it should not be baggy or so torn that it can become caught up in machinery.

To Minimize the Mess

Renovations generate a lot of dust especially if there is any sawing, demolishing or drywall being put up. Use sheets to cover furniture, clothing, and kitchen areas.

You can also use plastic sheeting (bought at your local home supply store) to block off doors and rooms from other parts of the house.

If you have heating/air conditioning vents in the room where you are working, block those with a cloth or rag.

Try to clean up the site regularly throughout the day to avoid injuries (e.g., lose nails, left-over wood after sawing, slippery sawdust on slippery floors). It makes cleaning up at the end of the day much easier as well and gives you a sense of control over the mess.

6. Ordering and delivery of materials

During step three (Choosing and Working with a Contractor) you began the process of drawing up a schedule for when work needed to be done and what materials were needed. You want to make sure that framing wood, for example, arrives before the drywall.

You will also have agreed with the contractor and sub-contractors on who will order what materials. Sometimes, contractors prefer to do all the ordering of materials as they know what they want and when they want it. If they are local contractors they will also have a working relationship with various suppliers in the area.

However, if the contractor orders and picks up a lot of the construction material, you are paying them to do something that someone else could do for free. Work out with the contractor what is best for your situation. Keep in mind that you may also be going after donations of material and you will need to know when they should be picked up and by whom. Again, open communication with your contractors will help with the scheduling of these deliveries.

If you are having materials delivered, try to arrange some help to move the material inside (e.g., dry wall, metal beading for drywall, doorframes, baseboards and manufactured trim, inside doors). Lumber can be stored outside and covered with a tarp to keep it dry. Lumber can get wet but drywall must be kept dry at all times.

Most delivery companies leave the delivery on the driveway of the home. Most will not help move the materials inside. Some drywall supply companies will use their truck crane to lift stacks of drywall through a opening in the house such as a framed window opening that has not been fitted with a window yet. This is especially helpful in the case of a second story addition.

Deliveries of gravel should always be put on the driveway (never on your grass). If you must have gravel or sand dropped on your lawn, be sure to lay down a tarp first.

If the materials you receive at home are donated or discounted, call the donor right away to thank them. Follow up with a thank you letter once their materials have been used (not necessarily at the end of the whole project.) If it is appropriate, send a photo of how their materials have been used. You might send a photo later on when the project is done as well. That would mean a telephone call and two follow-up letters in return for donated or discounted materials. Your genuine appreciation will likely encourage the manufacturer or supplier to help you, and other people, again in the future.

If donated materials need further installation instructions, feel free to call the supplier and ask for help.

If you are working with material that you have never used before, ask the company to send someone out to give you some tips or look for a volunteer who has worked with the material before.

7. Working with Volunteers on Site

Early on in this process you will have decided about whether or not you want to include volunteers during the home modification or renovation. You will have looked at using a support circle to help organize the work and whether you want a project or volunteer coordinator to take over some of the day-to-day organizing work of the project. If you are going to use a lot of volunteers (including family members, friends, and neighbors), it would help to have someone coordinate their schedules and work.

The key is to make all the volunteers feel welcomed, feel significant in their contribution, feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves and feel appreciated.

The coordinator will ensure that the work is divided well between the volunteers. They will also try to make sure that by the end of the day the work is at the stage where it can be continued the next day by a contractor or by another group of volunteers.

On large projects, someone needs to take responsibility for keeping the volunteers happy. This is usually not the volunteer project coordinator but someone who can dedicate themselves to ensuring the volunteers needs are met. The project coordinator for the day is more responsible for getting the work done rather than ensuring volunteers’ needs are met.

One way to keep people happy is to have lots of good food (family or volunteers can supply) and drinks (cold water, juices, pop). Try to have something “special” for morning and afternoon breaks and for lunch. Like the barn raising, food and comfort for friends and neighbors was all part of the enjoyment of the day. Do not offer alcohol during the actual work day. You want people fresh and alert to do their work and to minimize any injuries.

Most projects are not one-day jobs so keeping your volunteers happy will encourage them to come back to work again. It is also just good manners.

Have someone take lots of photos of your volunteers and the project (before and after shots) to help people understand the value they brought to the work. This adds to their sense of belonging and making a difference to the person and their family’s lives. Include copies of photos in your “thank you” letter, which you must always send after their volunteer work and/or the project is done.

Assume that both women and men can do any of the tasks needed. Do not assume that women prepare the food and men hammer the nails. Some of our best construction volunteers are women with lots of expertise in home renovation and some of the best food we have had was prepared by men.

Assign people to a job they know how to do or are willing to learn how to do. Do not make someone learn how to use a power tool if they feel uncomfortable. Do not have inexperienced volunteers working with the hydro panel, doing roofing or working high up on ladders if they are uncomfortable. Ensure they use the safety equipment required for the job. Make sure the family has the liability insurance that most homeowners carry.

Teenagers can help with certain work if they have the competence. It is better if their parent is on site working as well since they can say what the teen can and cannot do. Teens should not be using power tools or doing other tasks that have greater risks. It is not that they may not be able to do it well. It is that, for liability reasons, it is more prudent to have only competent adult volunteer for those tasks.

Children should be kept away from a construction site because they have little sense of the consequence of their actions and behaviors. What may seem fun to them can be quite dangerous. There are ways to include children outside of the actual construction work including working with an adult to pick up nails or screws from the ground after the work is done for the day (e.g., a penny-per-nail pick up). They can also be given a piece of wood and some nails (depending on their age) to build something of their own away from the construction site. Children naturally want to copy what adults are doing. A little creativity will allow them to feel like they are part of the work without endangering themselves or others.

8. Ending of the project

When you reach the end of the actual construction of the project, it will be tempting to just stop and enjoy the work accomplished. However, there are a few other tasks that still need to be done.

At the end of the project, you will need to:

1.Ensure that the work you wanted done was done satisfactorily. If you had a building permit, you will need to have a final inspection. If the work did not require a permit, you will still want to have some knowledgeable friends or a home inspector examine the work to make sure nothing was left undone.

2.Formally thank everyone involved in the project with a letter (and perhaps a few photos).

The will be some side benefits to this project as well:

You may have had more people involved in your life who understand the value of the gifts that everyone brought to the project. You may even have built a network or support circle that will continue to benefit each member of it for a long time. Most of us crave a sense of belonging; a sense of community. A renovation project is a great way to start that process.

You will have increased your own knowledge and skills in home renovation that you may offer to someone else in your community about to start work on their own project.

After the project is done

At the end of the project, send thank-you notes to everyone who participated with a before and after photo, if appropriate. A small album of photos is appropriate for larger donors or a larger pool of volunteers from one place.

The personal touch is always more memorable. You might, for example, make up a basket of home made goods and special treats to bring to a company that donated a substantial amount of material and volunteers.

If the project is very large, you may organize an open house and invite all donors and volunteers to see the finished work and share in the pleasure of having done a job well. Everyone benefits from such an open house as there is genuine pride in having participated in a job well done.

You may want to keep in touch with some of the suppliers and volunteers to let them know how you are doing and offer to help them if another project comes up. Your skills are now transferable and you can help other individuals and families with similar projects.

Lastly, we would ask that you write to us at Legacies with comments about how this book was helpful and what we could do to make it better.

9. Regular Maintenance

It is tempting to think that once a renovation is complete that you do not have to worry about anything again for many years to come. You are right only if you regularly maintain your home.

Some tips

Keep a file with all of your warranties together rather than separate files for every appliance, mechanical or electrical equipment. Make sure you record the serial numbers right away.

Take photos of the completed renovation for insurance purposes. It is even a good idea to have photos taken during the renovation itself of piping and major wiring so you know where to locate them in the walls years later if repairs are necessary.

Take a walk around the inside and outside of your home at the beginning of each season (about every 3-4 months). This is particularly important if you have added onto your home as it takes several months for the addition to “settle”. A few hours of preventive maintenance can save many hours and a lot of money down the road. Look for changes (cracks, settling, holes, leaks) in:

  1. the basement walls

  2. the walls (e.g., drywall may develop cracks or nails or screws may pop)

  3. door jams (e.g., may shift a bit making it difficult to close a door)

  4. the trim

  5. structural posts (e.g., holding up beams)

  6. earth that is against the sides of the home (e.g., sloped away from home to prevent water damage). If earth has settled leaving dents or holes, it is necessary to tramp the earth and fill any holes so that water cannot collect or freeze beside the foundation.

The following checklists for regular home maintenance are from David Caldwell 1996 book Renovating Your Own Home: A Step-by-Step Guide (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing). The book is an excellent resource for you. We are grateful to David for permission to reproduce these lists for you here. Copy the lists out and use the checklist for each season. Many new homeowners do not do regular maintenance and will need the help of an experienced neighbor, friend or professional to ensure the maintenance is done correctly for the first few years.

A good seasonal checklist can be consciously followed during the entire life of the home. It can become a very important document, especially if sometime in the future you decide to sell. The potential new owners would be delighted to know their new home was well maintained. The following preventive maintenance checklist can be used and altered to suit individual needs and concerns.

Spring Maintenance

The purpose is to check for any winter damage caused by ice and condensation. Spring is also the time to prepare your property for the required lawn and garden projects.

□  Remove storm windows, install screens and check operating units of windows.

□  Test circuit breakers and ground fault wall plugs.

□  Check sump pump.

□  Check and test floor drains.

□  Clean and repair garage parking pad and test floor drain if required.

□  For the first few years after a renovation check and adjust all structural teleposts to make sure they are still level.

□  Bleed any air from hot water tank.

□  Turn on water valve for sprinkler system and test. [These are taps inside the home that lead to outside water taps for garden houses, sprinklers, etc.]

□  Clean or replace furnace and humidifier filters. [Some furnace filters need to be changed every month. Verify how often the change is necessary in your case.]

□  During spring cleaning, check walls for nail pops, scratches, dents and cracks, and repair them.

□  Wash windows and check for winter frost or water damage.

□  Service water well pump and check septic system.

□  Clean eaves trough gutter and downspout.

□  Give visual check to roof, chimney and plumbing stacks, and service if required.

□  Clean out debris from basement window wells.

□  Service and clean air-conditioning unit’s drainage tubes and check the Freon levels.

□  Walk around perimeter fence line for winter damage and repair if required.

□  Repair asphalt, concrete and masonry damage.

□  Inspect shrubs and trees for winter kill and trim if necessary.

□  Fertilize lawn and evergreens and pull all visible weeds.

□  Check perimeter security and sidewalk lights and replace blown bulbs.

Summer Maintenance

□  Inspect, spray and repair basement and crawl spaces for bugs or water damage.

□  Vacuum and clean all exhaust fans and filters.

□  Clean or replace air-conditioning filters every four weeks.

□  Clean, repair, caulk and re-nail any damaged siding.

□  Clean any winter-stained stucco.

□  Give visual check to roof flashing and service if required.

□  Inspect and treat shrubs, yards and gardens for insects, weeds and other pests [using safe alternatives to pesticides when possible]

□  Adjust sprinkler system pop-up heads for proper lawn coverage.

□  Inspect and spray the perimeter of the house monthly against ants, termites and other pests [using safe alternatives to pesticides when possible]

Fall Maintenance

Fall is the least understood season for maintenance and should be the busiest. The house has had only minimum maintenance all summer and the property should now be protected from impending winter damage.

□  Install storm windows and/or remove screens for proper window air circulation.

□  Check and service all attic, door, window and garage overhead door weather stripping.

□  For the first few years after a major renovation, check and adjust all structural teleposts to level.

□  Inspect and clean all wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.

□  Clean clothes dryer filters and vent.

□  Test circuit breakers and ground fault wall plugs.

□  Service furnace fans, vacuum ducts if dirty, change air filter and check all thermostats.

□  Turn on furnace fans for proper air circulation and moisture reduction around window openings.

□  Inspect, test and clean humidifier and filter.

□  Test all household fire extinguishers and smoke detectors and carbon dioxide detectors.

□  Check sump pump and remove any accumulated silt.

□  Bleed any air from hot water tank and drain about five gallons [20 liters] of water.

□  Service water well pump and check septic system.

□  Give visual check to roof, flashing, chimneys, and plumbing stacks, and service if required.

□  Clean out debris from basement window wells.

□  Inspect and spray house and basement perimeter for ant and termite damage.

□  Clean and winterize the air-conditioning unit.

□  Clean eaves trough gutter and downspout.

□  Remove all hoses from exterior taps, drain lines and check shut-off valves.

□  Service sprinkler system, blow out all water from lines, and turn off supply water tap.

□  Inspect, prune and cover shrubs, trees and plants as required.

□  Check perimeter security and sidewalk lights and replace blown bulbs.

□  Repair and paint deck, windows, doors and perimeter fences as required.

□  Repair asphalt, concrete and masonry damage.

Winter Maintenance

In cold-climate areas, winter is the best season to make all interior repairs and find any energy-wasting air leaks. Check with the local utilities companies to see if they offer inspection services, e.g., furnace safety, energy efficiency, plumbing reviews.

□  Inspect attic hatches and perimeter of basement for air leaks and repair.

□  Inspect and service door and window frames, electrical outlets, and vent fans for air leaks.

□  Service and clean tub, shower and floor tile grout.

□  Clean or replace furnace and humidifier filters monthly.

□  Inspect, clean and service all appliances as required by warranty.

□  Repair, caulk and paint any nail pops or door/window casing cracks.

□  Inspect fireplace flue bi-monthly and furnace flue monthly.

□  Give visual check and service roof and eaves troughs against ice damage.

Once you have done the preventive maintenance for a few years, it will become second nature and you will ensure the safety, comfort and value of your home for many years to come. If you use a calendar to schedule your week or month, add a date and time each season to go through these checklists. You might pick regular times each year (e.g., weekend before Thanksgiving for Fall checklist) to help remind you when it is time for regular maintenance.

No Place Like Home

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Copyright © 2003, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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